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The curious case of a broken crumb trail

This article appears in the issue March 2013 (100 Companies) [Vol 22, Issue 3]
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So how could we have prevented the loss of over half a century of scientific exploration toward meeting our future energy needs? If non-serial decision-making and Option Outlines had been used, the following crumb trail might have emerged instead:

Decision 1: Which material for nuclear weapons production?

X Thorium (considered, not chosen). Why considered: safe handling and disposal; why not chosen: properties do not support producing a bomb

√ Uranium (chosen). Why: can produce a bomb and also plutonium for additional bombs.

Decision 2: Which material for nuclear submarine and ship propulsion?

X Thorium (considered, not chosen). Why considered: crew safety; why not chosen: arms race did not allow for going backward, despite thorium's benefits.

√ Uranium (chosen). Why: small containment environment is safe for required power levels (60 megawatts) and plutonium byproducts support production of additional bombs.

Decision 3: Which material for commercial nuclear power generation?

√ Thorium (chosen). Why: requires additional research but safer and more abundant.

X Uranium (considered, not chosen). Why considered: "proven technology" (although not for 1000+ megawatts) and plutonium byproducts support production of additional bombs; why not chosen: high capital costs, high toxicity and risk of contamination, high risk of WMD proliferation.

Hardly any area goes untouched. Major policy decisions regarding global climate change, healthcare, homeland security, immigration, finance and the like are being made and implemented in much the same manner. The bottom line: As our world grows more complex, the kind of future we will have depends on how we make decisions and how well we document the "why's." This is especially important given the exponential growth in the volume of information being generated.

Action to take

Here's a simple rule to help minimize lost knowledge and broken crumb trails: When trying to decide "which," be sure to document "why." Greater visibility into the "why" through tools such as an Option Outline does two things

  • helps us to make better decisions, and
  • allows us to better plan for the future, given that options that may have been valid at one point in time may no longer be valid later on, and vice versa.

Beginning today, start leaving a crumb trail for future knowledge seekers by capturing the "why" for all your critical decisions. Simply list the options under consideration and why they were accepted or rejected. Better to do it now than having to conduct a digital archeological "dig" down the road. 

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